There has been a recent surge of fires near my hometown of La Ronge, SK. Looking at the map I shared on Facebook the other day looks scary. Many of the main concerns of those who shared my post, were of the cabins they have out in their traplines and of mushroom land. Traditional land is at risk and people are not taking it lightly. Thankfully, there has been no reports yet of any cabins burning down, that I have seen.
This current forest fire situation reminds of the evacuation of La Ronge and area, back in 2015. Fires were popping up all around our tri-communities of La Ronge, Air Ronge and Lac La Ronge Indian Reserves. First, they implemented a voluntary evacuation and later a mandatory evac. I was at home at the time when the RCMP came to my apartment and told us to get up and leave with what we had on. There was no time to grab anything like clothes or any other personal belongings. It was traumatic, but I was able to keep a sound mind.
I had written a post about the ordeal back in 2015, however, through revamping and revising my website, the article got lost in the shuffle. I was able to find the original article from July 2015, in my archives recently and here is the link if you want to read it (many old news links in the article). – https://firstnationstories.com/?page_id=4119
I had saved a fire map of June 9, 2015, and now we can compare the map from that time to the map I am sharing today, July 10, 2021.
If you look at the map from 2021, you will notice there are more fires, however, if you look at the map from 2015, the fires are much closer to La Ronge and my old home reserve of Morin Lake. Notice the fire is closer to Sikachu than Hall Lake (Morin Lake Reserve 217, is in the two blocks of pink to the west of La Ronge). A cousin of mine lost her house in the fire in Sikachu. She ended up getting a new house in Hall Lake, which is the same reserve, but a different community (just trying to be clear).
While we are at the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic, it would devastate many family’s to be evacuated and live in close quarters as we did during the evacuation of 2015. We must all salute the firefighters for putting their lives on the line to put the fires out. They are the real heroes that should to be looked up to.
While we have been separated to an extent because of the pandemic, an evacuation would make it more difficult to recover from the traumatic events that we have already experienced.
Growing in La Ronge, Pesiw Lake and Hall Lake, I never heard of the term, Treaty 6 Territory. I would hear of Treaty Days and I enjoyed the events that would happen on that day. The whole community would get together and have events such as sack races, plank races and various other fun events. I do not remember hearing about the numbered treaties until I was in grade 10, at Sally Ross School, where I now teach grades 5 and 6.
I have taught my students about treaty 6, where and when it was signed, and about the year our band, the Lac La Ronge Indian Band (LLRIB), signed an adhesion in 1889. I have showed them the poster of the timeline of chiefs, which is available on the LLRIB website – History of the LLRIB Chiefs. I showed them the videos on the page to make them more aware of our first chief, Chief James Roberts and where he is buried. A few students were actually at the headstone ceremony this past summer. The ceremony is also on video, on the linked page.
The students were engaged and very interested in the information. Questions came up such as, what I remember about the previous chiefs and which ones I met. I told them I had met Harry Cook when he was chief and that former chief, Miles Venne came to my high school graduation in 1995 at Senator Myles Venne School. For some reason, his first name was misspelled, but I have not asked about it either.
Books were more about the southern Saskatchewan Indians regarding the buffalo and the hardships of land being stolen and ripped away from them. After hearing so much about the atrocities of the treaty signings and the lies perpetuated by the government, I started to wonder about our history, where do we fit, in the timeline of Indigenous events.
I completed the work for the LLRIB during my time as web developer. Recently, I decided to go to an outside source for more information that I may not have heard about. I asked a friend of mine, Samuel A. Hardlotte, about what he knows of the treaty signing, below was his response:
Our 1889 Adhesion to Treaty 6 was signed at the North end of Montreal Lake it was Not signed at molanosa. The settlement of molanosa did not exist in 1889 and it later began when some white men, began harvesting trees in that area and set up a sawmill, inland, from Montreal Lake. Our Acting Chief Sam Roberts, Hope and I visited Little Hills on Sept. 28th/19 to commemorate the historic event of the very 1st Annuity Payments. Tubby Bell was the person that took us out there. It was an emotional day for all of us. It was also an honour to be at Little Hills on that day.
Mr. Hardlotte is very passionate about the history of our Treaty 6 Territory. I joined him and his wife, Hope, with the Treaty Day display at the JRMCC, where they handed out T-shirts marking the anniversary of the treaty adhesion.
It was a showcase of historical documents, pictures and articles about LLRIB. It was very informative, and I did my part by displaying the video or our history on a projection screen.
I had an interesting but friendly debate with Hope during the event. She said that the separation of Stanley Mission in 1910, meant that they should not be included in the timeline of chiefs because in 1900, Peter Ballantyne separated from the Paylist to form their own band under his name, and they are not on the timeline. I argued (in a nice way, lol) that Peter Ballantyne Band is not in the timeline because they did not rejoin us at some point like Stanley Mission did. Anyway, it was a good discussion. Discussions and debates should be encouraged without the bitterness of arguments and escalated disagreements.
I am sure there is more to our history that has not been written, I hope one of these days that there is a project set up, to gather this information and present it for free, to all our schools, the LLRIB membership and the general public.
Scientists have been skeptical of the theory of firehawks spreading fires by carrying burning sticks. The Aborigines have known for centuries, maybe even for millennia, what scientists are discovering today.
There have been other instances of scientists discovering what North American Indigenous people have known all along. Native medicine is getting a second look from many scientists, but unfortunately, many are sponsored by corporations to make money. I see it more as an exploitation tactic as opposed to wanted to heal the sick. The medicine making the rounds on social media is chaga, check out the article and others at the bottom of the page.
While the exploitation might sound devious, how are our many urban “Indians” supposed to have access? It is doubtful that there are enough medicine men around to spread the healing practices to all our people. Capitalistic marketing is what is used today and may be the only viable way to get our medicines to people. I have no idea what else might work, maybe we will have a better system someday. If one of my readers have a good idea, please comment on the Facebook post.
I have personally used wacask ōmīcowin – rat root, for a headache. I still need to get some off my son who has a nice batch of it. I have gone on a field trip with one of my instructors to explore areas and identify Native medicine. This was all good because I got to see for myself, the work it would take to gather and prepare the healing remedies.
As a boy, I had chicken pox in the trapline. My grandfather – nimosōm, took me out on a trail to gather spruce gum. He boiled the chucks that we gathered, but I am not sure what else might have been in it. When it was ready, I placed generous amounts on the affected areas to sooth the itch. It was great to get that kind of relief. We went back to the rez soon after, and he made more when we got to my parent’s place.
As a boy living in La Ronge on the rez of 101, I had an accident. I was playing with a friend of mine; we were throwing small roof shingles at each other to see if we can dodge them. He grabbed a bigger piece than usual and asked if I could dodge it. I said: “haw haw” meaning go for it. He got me right above the right eye, I bled like heck. All I saw was red and I could see my friend hovering over me and try calm me down. We were about 5-6 years old at the time. When the bleeding was controlled, they didn’t take me to the hospital or clinic, nōhkom took me to the muskeg area and we gathered Labrador tea leaves. When we got to the house, she applied it over my eye and added a dressing over it. It was changed several times, over several days (I cannot remember how many times). Eventually, my cut was healed.
As an adult, working for the Gift of Language and Culture, I had been sick for several days. I went to work when I got a little better and told my female colleagues what I was going through (you know how men are, just kidding). One of my co-workers had this concoction of “Indian” medicine. The only ingredient I remember is rat root. Anyway, I made some tea and added a half teaspoon and the symptoms eased right up before lunch. This was after two more teas over the medicine I put in earlier. I was skeptical about the concoction, but I could not explain the way this stuff worked.
I have many colleagues and friends that gather Native medicine, but I hesitate to ask for any because I feel like I should go get it myself. I had hoped to get more into our medicines, but it is difficult to make the time in our “assimilated” way of life. I have work, family and relaxing time, so finding sources of medicine is one thing, it is entirely another to gather and prepare. I can see why it was usually medicine men or women that did all the careful gathering and preparation for their people.
Now to the skeptics. I have been one of these skeptics for the longest time even when I was obviously treated with “Indian” medicine a few times. It may be the spiritual aspects of the practice that throws people off. The ceremony of rising tobacco to the four-directions or giving tobacco to a medicine person, seems a bit arbitrary to one who is not raised to follow Native Spirituality. I have asked such questions before, only to be met with condescending answers, not very helpful. I may have come across as arrogant and rude, but the answer of spirits needing appreciation, did not sound right to me.
I have benefited from the use of medicine but I do not remember being told to offer tobacco. Many people in my area, were assimilated to the fur traders ways. We had a close relationship and still do. Of course, racism rears it’s ugly head on a daily basis, some days are better than others, but I hope things get better and I do not wish to elaborate at this time, maybe another article.
Obviously I was grateful and appreciated the healing from the plants. To the people who gathered and prepared it for me, I am very grateful.
When Scientists “Discover” What Indigenous People Have Known For Centuries
On February 2009, nikī-akosīn – I was sick. My head was killing me, and phlegm escaped from me with a vengeance. I had a dream of being dead and getting up in another dimension of sorts. The dream was confusing at first, but I was able to recall everything. The following is a present-tense narrative of that day/night.
I go to bed and hope the pain is gone in the morning. My flu-like symptoms ravaged me since the day before and I wonder how much longer I will suffer. I lay in bed hoping sleep will come soon as I close my weary eyes and hope the pain goes away.
I open my eyes to know that I am better, I sit up on my bed and see a strange sight before me, I see myself lying on the bed. I am astonished to see myself, am I still sleeping? I get up to look once more. This place I live in 101 Reserve used to be jumping with activity. I get up to walk to the hallway and as I walk I can see that it is daytime, something I did not notice when I got up because my windows were covered with a dark blanket.
I go into the hallway and look ahead. There is activity, I see my late auntie Jill in the kitchen area looking after some children I do not recognize. She talks to them and feeds them. She has the look of happiness as she smiles and comforts those who seem to need her and her caring demeanor. As I look while I am halfway through the hallway, my late grandfather comes out of my then living grandmother’s room. He looks at me: “tīniki kā-pīkīyokīn” (thank you for visiting) he says.
As he walks me through the house, he tells me that Jill is taking care of children who have passed at an earlier time. The children were unfamiliar to me and he said I would not know them, they passed before I was born. Jill is their caretaker who is looking after them at this time. I asked about his late father Daniel and he said that he was out visiting the living to see how they were doing. I asked what he was doing in my grandmother’s room and he said he was visiting her. He said we can’t be seen by the living and we can’t see them unless we allow it to happen. He said he was just checking on her to see how she was doing. My grandmother was doing fine at the time and she loved having me and my daughter in her home.
I didn’t step out of the house but I imagined it looked the same as it did before I passed. My grandfather said I can visit who I want but not to let them see me, it would be too frightening to the living. I look to watch my late auntie Jill taking the children out to play, she did not acknowledge me. She was too busy taking care of the children. My grandfather had his arm on me and hugged me and thanked me again for visiting. Visiting, I thought I am just visiting, maybe I am still alive, I thought of my body on the bed.
I wake up in the same position as I was when I was sleeping.
I told very few people of this dream but it has been on my mind for the longest time. It was a great dream to have.
ī-wāpahtamān niyaw kāpasikowān – I saw my body when I got up
I came up with another idea for a custom clock. I made a collage of pictures above and below the actual clock face. It is similar to the one I made for my sister. Feel free to share and maybe make your own Cree clock.
In 2005, I started working for the Gift of Language and Culture Project as a casual web designer. Little did I know that they were expecting a Flash based website with images, text and audio all rolled into one for each category. I was overwhelmed by the expectations but I was happy to at least be working. I put in many extra hours at home to learn this new application.
I knew enough about image and sound formats but he text part gave me trouble because I had never worked with different text fonts other than the generic types we are all used to such as, Times New Roman, Arial or Comic Sans. I had to learn quickly because the demands of the project team was high and I was expected to work miracles and with new Aboriginal language fonts I never heard of.
We had Cree, Dene and syllabic fonts that needed to be installed on all our computers and I had to make sure people at home and schools could view the fonts on documents so I had to provide a link to the fonts for personal installation. There were also applications I needed to familiarize myself with, such as, CorelDraw, Publisher, Adobe Acrobat, Adobe Audition and of course Adobe Flash (Macromedia Flash at the time). I already knew about Adobe Photoshop so that was a big help with the images that needed to be edited and manipulated.
The project team was great and the people were dedicated and willing to put forth much effort to accomplish what we could, to provide resources for Aboriginal language learners all over the country and even some in the United States. We had curriculum developers who compiled the Cree and Dene word lists and translations, illustrators who provided the original clip-art we needed, audio/visual personnel who recorded the audio and video required and of course the material developers who put the resources together for print and distribution.
Part One & Part Two
I personally collaborated with all staff to get what I needed to build the website and put their work together and develop what we see today. If it were not for the cooperation and hard work of the team, I could not do what I did for the website. I am grateful for the experience and I was so sad to see it all come to an end in 2011. It was a big part of my life, 7 years of my life that it still has a profound effect on me today.
I think I did well on my self-learning because we ended up with a great Cree website that is still online and used all around the world and has been viewed by 147 countries. It has had 276,357 hits and 100,226 unique visitors (as of June 17, 2015) which is pretty good for a non-mainstream language and website.
The YouTube Channel has 407 subscribers 260,379 views as (of June 17, 2015). The channel has songs, concerts, and animations for the whole family to enjoy. There are also a couple of instructional videos for snowshoes and birch bark baskets and many interviews with elders, some who are not with us today.
As the web designer/Flash developer, I received praise for the work I did but I always mentioned the people behind all the important work that needed to be done before I could even develop an animation or Flash exercise. I had a good working relationship with all my co-workers and while they contributed all the work, I made myself extra useful by troubleshooting their computer’s hardware and software when ever they needed it. There was no way I could do my work if they could not do theirs, so it worked out for all of us.
I am currently training to be a teacher at Nortep and hopefully in a couple of years I will be able to contribute to the Cree language professionally with much more credibility. I decided to go back to school because I needed more training in the area of education and to hopefully expand my horizons for myself and to contribute more to the learning environment of our students in other areas where it is needed.
On a side note, I would receive emails and phone calls from Montana, Ontario, British Columbia and the all the prairie provinces to let me know what a great job the Gift was doing. One person in particular called from BC to tell me that he loved the website and that two of his children were learning Cree from their mother who was a Cree woman he married from Saskatchewan somewhere, I cannot remember where specifically (it might have been Pelican Narrows). It was a morning call out of nowhere but it was a nice surprise way back about 2010.
I wish the project could have continued but all good things come to an end. Maybe one of these days there will be a revival and if there is, I would love to be involved again and provide my experience and expertise.